A Compelling Ride to the Future
When I look back on all the Lyft and Uber rides I’ve taken in my life, not even the best ones come close to reflecting my experience playing Neo Cab. You play as a ride-share service driver in the future, but you won’t need to worry about driving. Instead, Chance Agency has built a visual novel that gives players a lot of, well, agency. Your choices bring you one step closer to uncovering a corporate conspiracy and finding your missing friend. While there are a few hiccups along the way, Neo Cab weaves a tale that feels incredibly relevant to today’s evolving world.
Relating to Neo Cab
We live in an increasingly technological world, and Chance Agency expertly blurs the line between reality and cyberpunk. Life in Neo Cab’s Los Ojos, California, seems a bit more stark than the real world, but not by that much. Capra, a megacorporation, controls everything. Their self-driving cars replaced most of the transportation in the city, and the company regularly buys up smaller start-ups. They capture data on everyone, doing who knows what with it. All in all, it sounds pretty familiar, creating a believable and relatable setting.
Aside from the overbearing-yet-real depiction of a corporate future, Neo Cab features excellent human moments that cut through all the futurism. At the center of those human moments sits the player character, Lina. While protagonists are commonly depicted as heroic, confident characters, Lina instead embodies the opposite. She manages her anxiety as best she can, which gets tough when you have a rotating cast of strangers in your backseat.
Early in Neo Cab, she gets a bracelet called the FeelGrid. Think of it as a mood ring that actually works. It lights up blue when she’s sad or bright yellow when she’s excited. Depending on her mood, certain dialogue options open up or close off. Whenever players try selecting an option that Lina can’t say, her inner monologue explains why she can’t. In many cases, these expressions hit pretty close to home. For example, I had a conversation with a confrontational passenger while Lina was feeling very blue. One of the dialogue options would have likely led to more confrontation. When I tried picking it, Lina said she didn’t have the energy to deal with more conflict.
The raw depiction of human anxiety and believable near-future conspiracies sets the stage well for Neo Cab’s dystopian tale. If you’re looking for a happy ending, though, you might want to turn away.
Neo Cab Review | A Dark, Unhappy, Well-told Tale
Every ride I gave through this futuristic Californian city revealed a compelling vertical slice of life in Los Ojos. Capra controls everything, and they’re automating more and more jobs. Even human drivers could lose their jobs to the “perfect” robot cars. A radical group wants to relieve Los Ojos from Capra’s stranglehold. However, like most radical groups, some of their ideas lean toward the extreme end of the spectrum. Lina lies at the center of it all, and she just wants to find her best friend, one passenger at a time.
Most passengers you meet can become repeat customers, so you can follow their stories if you’re compelled to do so. I wanted to learn more about nearly every character I picked up. The one-off, one-star customers raised questions in me as much as the exciting repeat passengers. Even toward the end of the story, when I thought I was scraping the bottom of the proverbial barrel, Change Agency surprised me with the depth I found in the less likable characters. Each one has a quirk, making it fun to discover their characters unravel in Lina’s car.
As you reach the end of the in-game week, Neo Cab progresses deeper into the Capra conspiracy, and it doesn’t exactly have a happy ending. If you’re familiar with the shady practices of big data companies like Facebook and Google, a lot of what Neo Cab offers won’t necessarily surprise you. However, the human elements of the story get just as bleak, so the story here could be described as cathartic at best. Finding the silver lining takes a little bit of interpretation on the player’s part. Without spoiling anything, the narrative here leaves you thinking a lot about the state of the world and your relationships with others, which I’d argue is the mark of a good story.
The Downsides of the Near-future
Unfortunately, Neo Cab contains one glaring issue: its frame rate. Granted, that doesn’t matter as much for a visual novel, but whenever I notice the frame rate dip, it takes me out of the experience a bit. It specifically drops every time Lina picks up her phone as if the animation itself was rendered at a lower frame rate. This animation happens frequently, too, so it’s hard to miss and be annoyed by. At other times, it drops sporadically. I experienced these problems on the Nintendo Switch, so I can't say if these problems would pop up at all elsewhere.
Additionally, you won’t get through every passenger’s story in one playthrough. This can leave you hanging on certain narrative threads when you run out of time. Granted, this gripe isn’t the worst thing, considering it only takes around three hours to get through the story. Furthermore, the autosave system is pretty liberal, so you can jump back to older point in the story and choose different passengers if you want.
Neo Cab Review | Final Thoughts
For those with a negative outlook on our technological future, Neo Cab won’t exactly assuage your worries. Nonetheless, Chance Agency has weaved a thoughtful narrative that makes players re-examine the devices around them. Their depiction of Lina may resonate more with those who live with anxiety, but it’s refreshing to see a game feature a character who wears her flaws on her sleeves. As much as Chance Agency has made me think about the big corporations in the world, I’ve also considered my own emotional flaws as a human being. Neo Cab’s ride may end when the credits roll, but its story and message sticks with you for hours after the fact.
- Compelling Narrative Told Through Vertical Slices
- Managing Emotions Hits Close to Home
- Cyberpunk Setting Still Reflects The Real World
- Consistent Frame Rate Dips